Mcfad­den’s hoop dreams

Kenny Mcfad­den has been a reg­u­lar fea­ture at lo­cal schools and courts for many years. Joseph Romanos talks to the Amer­i­can bas­ket­baller about ar­riv­ing here in the 1980s, sleep­ing on a bot­tle­store floor and work­ing with young­sters.

Kapi-Mana News - - FEATURE -

Was bas­ket­ball al­ways your sport?

Grid­iron was my No 1 sport. My fa­ther and three un­cles played pro­fes­sion­ally.

I did track, played soft­ball and base­ball, box­ing – a lot of sport.

When I turned 17 I had to make a de­ci­sion and chose to take up a bas­ket­ball schol­ar­ship.

Why did you come to New Zealand?

It was 1982. I was on a bas­ket­ball schol­ar­ship at Wash­ing­ton State Univer­sity and got in­jured.

My coach said I should spend some time play­ing overseas and gave me the choice of Cze­choslo­vakia or New Zealand. I asked who spoke English and came here.

What did you know about New Zealand?

Nothing. Clyde Hunt­ley, a bas­ket­baller I knew, had come here, but that was about it.

I fig­ured New Zealand was in the South Pa­cific, so it would be all palm trees and sun­shine.

I flew into Welling­ton in a southerly. It rained for my first four weeks!

What about our bas­ket­ball then?

My club was Saints and they were in the na­tional sec­ond di­vi­sion. We played Cen­trals, a first di­vi­sion team, the day af­ter I ar­rived and lost by three.

The Saints guys seemed very happy, which didn’t sit with me. I liked to win.

I re­mem­ber walk­ing into the St Pat’s gym and won­der­ing where the stands were. At Wash­ing­ton State, the gym seated 14,000, and we played tele­vised games.

So fa­cil­i­ties were rudi­men­tary.

The main lo­cal sta­dium was in New­town. There were vines grow­ing through the roof. The build­ing leaked and there’d be pud­dles every­where. When we wanted to train there, we’d have to break in through a small win­dow to open the doors.

At that stage I was de­ter­mined to get an NBA con­tract, and kept say­ing to my­self, ‘‘What­ever it takes, what­ever it takes’’. It was a dif­fer­ent cul­ture. The play­ers drank a lot af­ter games. Great big bot­tles of beer. We trav­elled to an Easter tour­na­ment in Napier and when we ar­rived we headed straight for the Cri­te­rion Ho­tel bot­tle­store.

I thought, ‘‘Not be­fore the game, surely!’’ But it was where we slept. Terry Or­chard threw me a sleep­ing bag and we slept on the bot­tle­store floor.

So you didn’t plan to be in New Zealand long.

Ev­ery year was go­ing to be my last year. My plan was to get into the NBA. I’d go back and try ev­ery year, but I never made it.

Then I de­cided to set­tle here. It’s such a great coun­try.

The 1980s were hal­cyon days for our na­tional bas­ket­ball league.

It was a fan­tas­tic time. Saints were pro­moted to the first di­vi­sion and made seven fi­nals. We won four.

Ev­ery­one re­mem­bers the 1985 fi­nal against Auck­land. The game was tele­vised live. Auck­land, who had all the stars, had beaten us by 20 twice that sea­son. In the fi­nal it was 100-100 at full-time and in over­time I hit the win­ning shot right on the buzzer. That was one of my great bas­ket­ball mo­ments.

The na­tional league was huge then, sell­out crowds every­where.

What did you think of New Zealand in those days?

When I ar­rived I was amazed how the kiwi would come on tele­vi­sion about 9 o’clock dur­ing week­nights and say, ‘‘Good­night’’. There were only two chan­nels.

I was liv­ing with Clyde Hunt­ley in High­bury and we’d then get out a bas­ket­ball and walk all the way to Courte­nay Place, bounc­ing the ball along the way. We’d go to Hot Dog House, then walk home.

Why did you stay in Welling­ton?

Auck­land re­minded me too much of Los An­ge­les. Welling­ton was a small town with the things a city of­fers and I’ve al­ways liked it.

What did you do when you re­tired?

I’d been the Saints player-coach al­most right through, but in 1996 I de­cided I wanted to work with young peo­ple. I started HoopClub. We go into schools and base our­selves at lo­cal rec cen­tres. We do six ses­sions a week, up to 120 kids a ses­sion.

There’s nothing more sat­is­fy­ing than coach­ing young­sters. You can in­flu­ence their lives, build char­ac­ter.

Coach­ing top play­ers, you’re re­ally only manag­ing them.

It’s why I en­joyed coach­ing the ju­nior Tall Blacks, too.

HoopClub has been a big suc­cess.

We’ve been to ev­ery school in the Welling­ton area. One time we held a dunk­ing con­test out at Can­nons Creek and there were 3000 kids there. If some­one takes an in­ter­est and of­fers some­thing, the kids will re­spond.

I sup­pose Steve Adams is your big star.

He has been amaz­ing. He was 14 and on the streets in Ro­torua when we got hold of him. But he had the pedi­gree – his sis­ter is a world cham­pion – and he had the phys­i­cal equip­ment. He got a schol­ar­ship at Scots Col­lege and adapted well to the re­quire­ment of train­ing to be a top­class ath­lete.

Turned out he’d been thirst­ing for some dis­ci­pline. Now he’s the hottest young kid in Amer­i­can bas­ket­ball.

I al­ways wanted to coach a player to go to the NBA and Steve will be the first, but not the last.

We’ve sent to the US 28 play­ers on schol­ar­ships in the last eight years.


Kenny McFad­den: ‘‘When I ar­rived I was amazed how the kiwi would come on tele­vi­sion about 9 o’clock dur­ing week­nights and say, ‘Good­night’.’’

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